German mayoral candidate wounded in knife attack

The suspected assailant told officials that he targeted Henriette Reker and that 'he wanted to and did commit this act because of anti-foreigner motives.'

Oliver Berg/dpa via AP
In this Friday, Oct. 16, 2015 photo independent candidate for the mayor of Cologne Henriette Reker talks to residents during her election campaign in Cologne, Germany. Reker was wounded in a stabbing as she campaigned on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015, a day before an election in the western German city.

A leading candidate to be mayor of Cologne was stabbed and seriously wounded Saturday by a man who claimed anti-foreigner motives, an attack that Germany's interior minister said underlined growing concerns over hatred and violence in the refugee crisis.

Henriette Reker was stabbed in the neck at a campaign stand set up by Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats at a market. Her condition was stable, police chief Wolfgang Albers said.

Reker is an independent candidate in Sunday's election for the new mayor of Germany's fourth-biggest city, but is backed by Merkel's conservatives and two other parties. The 58-year-old currently heads Cologne's social affairs and integration department, and is responsible for refugee housing.

Another woman was seriously wounded and three people had minor injuries from the attack, senior police investigator Norbert Wagner told reporters.

The suspected assailant, a 44-year-old German national and Cologne resident who said he had been unemployed for several years, told officials that he targeted Reker and that "he wanted to and did commit this act because of anti-foreigner motives," Wagner said. He added that the man appeared to have acted alone and had no police record.

Prosecutor Ulf Willuhn said officials will now investigate whether that was in fact the man's primary motive or whether his health played a role. They plan to carry out a psychiatric examination.

Asked whether the suspect had specifically mentioned Reker's or Merkel's policies on refugees, Wagner said: "No. He made general statements in that direction — he didn't mention Ms. Merkel at all."

City officials said Sunday's election would go ahead as planned.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere described the stabbing as "an attack on our democracy" and said he had long been "concerned by the hate-filled language and violent actions that accompany the refugee debate in Germany."

"This cowardly attack in Cologne is further evidence of the increasing radicalization of the refugee debate," he said in a statement.

Germany has taken in more refugees and other migrants than any other European Union country, and the influx is stretching its capacity to house newcomers. Most Germans have been welcoming, but there have been repeated attacks this year on refugee shelters, ranging from arson to racist graffiti.

Attacks on politicians are rare in Germany, but there have been prominent cases.

Then-Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble was shot by a deranged man while campaigning in October 1990, an attack that left him using a wheelchair. A few months earlier, a mentally disturbed woman stabbed Oskar Lafontaine, then a prominent member of Germany's main opposition party, while he was campaigning in Cologne.

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